Overall Rank: #84
Conference Rank: #1 Big South
2006-07: 29-5, 14-0, 1st
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Winthrop only lost five games last year. And even the great teams in the not so great conferences will lose a conference game or two, but not the Eagles. Their five loses were to North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin, Texas A&M and Oregon. However, it will not be the same this year for Winthrop and new Coach Randy Peele. The Eagles lose a large number of players and will have to mix in seven freshmen. The conference is still theirs for the taking, but another victory in the NCAA Tournament might be asking a little too much.
Despite all the losses, Winthrop does return a couple starters. Center Craig Bradshaw, forward Phillip Williams and guard Torrell Martin have wrapped up their collegiate careers and are the three starters lost. Bradshaw averaged 13.5 points and a team high 6.3 rebounds during his senior campaign. Williams complimented Bradshaw in the paint quite well and the Eagles will need to quickly find an entire new frontcourt. Martin averaged 14.5 points per game and was a big threat from long range. It was not just his scoring though that will be missed, Martin was second on the team in rebounding with 5.7 per game and provided a much needed rebounder out of the backcourt. Guard Kyle Moore was a decent option down the bench, but it is the absence of DeAndre Adams that that goes well beyond basketball. The crowd favorite died from injuries suffered in a car accident in May. Seldom used Jason Killeen and Anthony Williams will not be returning to the program.
The need for Winthrop is up front and they found a couple players who are ready to make an immediate impact. At 6-9 and 230 pounds, junior college transfer Andy Buechert will provide a much needed big body. With his experience and ability to score with his back to the basket, Buechert could be starting right away. Rainer Blickle will find himself competing for playing time this year. The 6-7 forward is a quality all around player and has a nice stroke from long range. The question is whether or not he is tough enough to handle the power forward position where the team needs him the most. Chris Malcom, Charles Corbin and George Valentine will bring plenty of depth to the forward spots. The lanky Malcom is already an accomplished shot blocker and will immediately be a presence on the defensive end. The addition of one of the best recruits to ever suit up for Winthrop is almost here. Eagle fans had to wait for a year while Byron Faison redshirted during the 2006-2007 season. That says a heck of a lot about the depth of the program when such a highly touted recruit redshirts. At 6-1, Faison stayed off the radar of some higher profile colleges, but the guy is a superb athlete and can flat out score. He has a nice stroke that extends well beyond the three point arc and will get to the basket with ease. The lack of experience might keep him out of the starting lineup for now, but it will not likely last long. Point guard Justin Burton and combo guard Marc-David Vil will find it difficult to see too many minutes during their freshmen campaigns.
Who to Watch:
Even with the departures, there is still plenty of talent on the perimeter. Michael Jenkins led the team with 14.8 points per game last year and is a tremendous shooter from long range. Jenkins is already a star, but he can take his game to the next level if he can find a way to get to the basket more often. Point guard Chris Gaynor was often left out of the spotlight with Jenkins and Martin on the wings, but the senior point guard is a decent shooter and a great distributor. Gaynor averaged 4.4 assists and just 1.4 turnovers per contest last season and those numbers will only get better. Antwon Harris and Mantoris Robinson will battle for the starting job to replace Martin. Neither come close to the shooting ability of Martin, but they are decent scorers who can help the depleted frontcourt on the glass.
And the lone returning impact player in the frontcourt is Taj McCullough. The 6-7, 222 pound senior will need some help from the newcomers, but McCullough can get on the glass and step outside and hit the mid-range jumper. Winthrop will not be as good as they were last year and they surely will lose more than five games and possibly even one or two in the conference. Yet there is more talent here then meets the eye and anybody else winning the Big South and reaching the NCAA Tournament would be a surprise.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Chris Gaynor, Senior, Guard, 7.8 points per game
Michael Jenkins, Senior, Guard, 14.8 points per game
Antwon Harris, Senior, Guard, 5.5 points per game
Taj McCullough, Senior, Forward, 7.9 points per game
Andy Buechert, Junior, Center, DNP last season